Dinner with Authors: Delicious Evenings

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 8th, 2010

A combined Josie/Elizabeth post. First, Elizabeth:

One of the best things about events like the booksellers’ conference we just attended (the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute) is the opportunity to visit with authors and illustrators during dinners or parties hosted by publishing houses. These are very special evenings, because the bookseller/author ratio is pretty low, so we all get a chance to chat with artists whose work we admire, alongside the publicists who work so hard on behalf of their books. It’s also great fun to meet and chat with other booksellers, something we all too rarely get a chance to enjoy. On top of all that, the food is always tasty, the lighting is flattering, and wine happens.

Last Wednesday evening, I had the great pleasure of celebrating Ed Young and Brenda Z. Guiberson’s new picture book, Moon Bear (Macmillan/Henry Holt, May 2010), with both of its creators. They were actually getting their very first peek at the finished book that evening; the book had been flown straight from the bindery to make the event. It was a small magical moment to see Ed and Brenda huddled together, leafing through their book page by page. It’s a beautiful book. In fact, all of the attending booksellers were laughing in agreement about how easy it will be to sell: all we’ll have to do is set out a stack; they’ll sell themselves. It doesn’t hurt that the language is lyrical and repetitive in just the ways young children love, while sneaking in a whole lot of information about this rare Asian bear. Some of the proceeds from the book will go to AnimalsAsia, an organization that works to rescue and rehabilitate moon bears from pretty horrific circumstances. Two representatives from AnimalAsia made a very moving presentation about their cause. They circulated a fabulous book about the rescued bears, called Freedom Moon.

When it was my chance to talk with Ed about his book, he pointed out secret silhouettes he’d hidden in the moon bear’s white neck bands: on one page, his wife; on two others, his daughters; on a fourth, an honored teacher. Booksellers—heck, all readers!—love hearing this kind of thing. Brenda spoke about revealing the bear’s personality through the adjectives she chose to describe him. Booksellers love this kind of thing, too.

The evening ended with a lovely art print from the book the Macmillan/Holt folks gave us to take home, and a unique gift from Ed Young: hand-painted eggs, each sporting a different study of a moon bear! He had made them while figuring out how to paint his contribution to the Open Fields School Goose Egg Auction in May. The chicken eggs he gave us were autographed, and each one had the recipient’s name on it. *And,* he had painted his own facial silhouette onto the moon bear’s ruff on each egg. Yes, if we had died right then and there, we all couldn’t have gone to a happier book-lovers’ heaven. What cracked me up (yuk yuk; or is that yolk, yolk?) was that he brought these eggs nested in their little cardboard carton, and here we were, a dozen booksellers who couldn’t believe their luck, petrified by the task of getting these treasures back home to the four corners of the country without breaking. Would we need to put them through security at the airport in their own grey bin, and cradle them in our trembling hands all the way home? Fortunately, the restaurant had perfect little containers, and our fears were relieved. At least we could carry them back to the hotel in one piece. Honestly, I’ve been afraid to peek into my container since arriving back in Vermont. When I get the courage to check, I’ll take a photo and post it here.

Now for Josie’s dinner notes:

On Thursday night, about ten booksellers were treated to a very a good meal courtesy of Egmont USA. While Egmont is one of Europe’s largest publishers, it’s relatively new here in the U.S. The dinner was to introduce us to David Patneaude, who wrote Epitath Road, a dsytopian young-adult novel that captivated me during all my down time on Friday. David’s story idea is very creative: a virus has wiped out 97% of the men on earth. Now women are in charge and there is most definitely a new world order. I can’t wait to finish this. [Elizabeth adds: we had an interesting conversation about the book cover, which has been changed from the one you see at left. Both covers are arresting, and booksellers were only semi-joking when we said they should print both as an experiment, since they appeal to very different readers. I can’t wait to read this book, too; I love a good dystopian novel!]

Doug Pocock, managing director of Egmont USA, is a lovely British guy, who unabashedly loves middle-grade fiction. I thought that was pretty cool. Egmont is slowly planning on growing into the U.S. market. Their list right now, while small, is full of some great (and great-looking) books.

Friday night, Bloomsbury took about ten of us to dinner, to meet the author Dr. Cuthbert Soup, author of A Whole Nother Story, a mystery along the lines of the Series of Unfortunate Events, full of humor and fanciful touches. I was struck by how many creative things Dr. Soup has done along the way to becoming a children’s author. What struck me the most was his writing for movies, some of which you’ll know, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to say. I asked him which profession he liked more and without hesistation he said kids’ books. “You can have more fun,” he said. This surprised and delighted me. Dr. Soup is charming and Bloomsbury has him hard at work on the sequel, so we’ll have more to look forward to. I have to admit that both dinners were at the same restaruant which left me wondering if there are no other places to eat in San Jose. I can happily report that the stuffed chicken with mozzarella and prosciutto was equally delicious the second night. I was saddened, though, that we had to leave for the airport before dessert, because the creme brulee was fabulous. (Elizabeth adds: In a rep book talk at the conference, Bloomsbury’s publishing director George Gibson said that “this wasn’t usually [his] kind of thing” to read, but he laughed out loud at every page. After meeting the author, I believe it. He’s hilarious, and you can tell he’s terrific with kids at school visits.)

Back to E:

One last appreciative note: It’s heartening to know that, in this economy, children’s books are one of publishing’s bright spots, and that children’s book departments are a bright spot in general bookstores. Even so, it’s a tough climate for independent booksellers, so special evenings like these bring us back to the magic of what we get to do, and make us excited to return to our stores and recommend books to kids who will love them. Thanks, everyone, for the delightful evenings, to the authors and illustrators, and especially to the gracious and fun hosts of the dinners: Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, Mark von Bargen, and Kevin Peters at Macmillan, Mary Albi and Doug Pocock at Egmont, and Deb Shapiro at Bloomsbury. We know how much work goes into those evenings.

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